Eyes on the Street: Dodging Drivers on the Sidewalk

Video still: Rob Underwood
Video still: Rob Underwood

Heads up, New Yorkers. You never know when your neighborhood sidewalk will turn into a construction detour for motorists.

A National Grid construction crew blocked Prospect Place between Flatbush Avenue and Sixth Avenue this morning. Since the crew failed to cork the street at the top of the block by Flatbush, drivers were expected to just figure it out once they had already turned down Prospect. Of course, some drivers took the most direct route possible: Jumping the curb and driving on the sidewalk with pedestrians.

Rob Underwood was walking home after taking his kids to P.S. 282 when he came across the scene. “It looked like one of the drivers had gotten out of his car to yell at the construction workers and then got back in his car to drive around on the sidewalk,” he said. Other drivers followed. One SUV driver almost got stuck, with the vehicle fenced in on the sidewalk by an old fire call box. At another point, a livery car driver idled on a curb ramp as a woman walking with a stroller and child tried to get by.

“After probably six cars tried to go through, cars tried to go out in reverse back to Flatbush, which is probably dangerous, but less dangerous than driving on the sidewalk,” Underwood said.

In September, DOT issued a street construction permit to a National Grid subsidiary for gas work on this block of Prospect Place. The permit expires on Sunday.

Update 12:45 p.m.: “As part of our ongoing gas main replacement program, National Grid is upgrading and installing about 200 feet of gas main and new service lines to homes for our customers on Prospect Place. We have appropriate permits from DOT allowing temporary traffic control devices to close the street periodically,” National Grid spokesperson Karen Young said in an e-mail. “Safety is our number one priority; we have a flagger onsite and proper barricades to close off the street as needed to complete work and protect the public and our workers. The barricade was breached this morning and we took immediate action to secure the area to ensure the safety of the community and our crews.”

  • Joe R.

    Why are you allowed to drive a car on the sidewalk in NYC but not ride a bike? If anything the opposite should be true.

    If there is a statute against driving on sidewalks, then why aren’t police enforcing it? We all know if bikes were doing this on the same street, police would set up a dragnet.

  • qrt145

    Riding a bike on the sidewalk is a criminal matter in NY, but I wouldn’t be surprised if driving on the sidewalk were treated as a traffic violation at most. Anyone who knows, please let me know. 🙂

  • Alex

    Close. There is a law that makes it an automatic charge if you injure a person while riding your bike on the sidewalk, but there is NO equivalent law for cars. Nice, huh?

  • Clarke

    DOT’s most likely response: Call 311

  • In an effort to send a clear message that pedestrian space is sacred, banning cars from sidewalks was one of Enrique Penalosa’s earliest acts as mayor of Bogota. How shameful that New York City, the most walkable city in America, lags behind Bogota when it comes to protecting people on foot. This behavior should be seen as socially unacceptable, even in circumstances like this.

    Vision Zero means nothing if even sidewalks aren’t considered off-limits to drivers.

  • qrt145

    My understanding is that even if you don’t injure anyone, the ticket for riding a bike on the sidewalk is actually a summons to appear in criminal court (I don’t know what the exact charge is), which means that you actually have to go instead of being able to mail it in, and that if you don’t show up a bench warrant is issued for your arrest.

  • Alex

    Sounds right. And yet city council members are making a fuss about banning texting while biking. They want parody on that law, but haven’t uttered so much as a word about discrepancies like that.

  • djx

    Because drivers don’t only own the road, they own the sidewalks.

    Because they’re drivers, not dirty f*ing hippies or Lance Armstrong.

    Because NYPD.

  • Lance Armstrong? ITYM Bono.

  • Apt typo. 🙂

  • guest

    This is just another typical garbage pickup day in my neighborhood. Can’t get by the DSNY truck on the street? Just use the sidewalk.

  • tbatts666

    I am beginning to see this pattern with politician and engineers.

    Something criminal or dangerous happens that they don’t want to deal with, they shovel off the problem to the police and then blame the driver.

  • I’m sorry, are you saying that drivers regularly use the sidewalk in your part of town? That’s insane.

  • IlIlIl

    If that car was a bike he’d have been tackled and thrown in the hole before it was filled in…

  • cmu

    Seriously, folks, this seems to be a stupid overlook by Coned which resulted in (i’m guessing) a few cars doing this. If I saw this situation as a ped, I certainly would let the cars out of the block without getting upset.

    I’m sorry, I’ve NEVER seen a car ‘taking the sidewalk’. Parking yes…

  • Ian Turner

    Cars should back out. There’s no reason or excuse for taking the sidewalk.

    And I’m inclined to agree that this is not a systemic problem. But the institutional response is indicative of a systemic problem.

  • r

    How do cars get on the sidewalk except by driving on it?

  • guest

    Yes.
    Yes it is.
    Welcome to the Outer Boroughs!

  • cmu

    Reading comprehension? Obviously when I said ‘never taking the sidewalk’ I meant in non-unusual circumstances like this one.

    If a few stuck cars drove a few dozen feet to get unstuck, unless they were threatening peds it’s not a problem to get incensed over.

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